The best things we’ve learnt about health in 2019

We’ve become a little wiser about our health this year, as science has found new ways to help us live longer and better.

Take a look at just some of health-related news, topics and trends that have come to light in 2019.

There’s no need to break the fast

It turns out breakfast isn’t the big chief of mealtime we’ve all long thought.

Researchers from Monash University reviewed 11 studies into the impact of skipping breakfast on weight and metabolic rate.

They found no good evidence to support having breakfast assists weight loss or that avoiding it leads to weight gain.

Health benefits of protein shakes a little flimsy

The credentials of quick and convenient protein shakes came under scrutiny when a Sydney University study found too much could have a detrimental impact on long term health.

Whey protein, popularly used by fitness fans, contains high levels of a particular group of essential amino acids called branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) which are great for building muscle mass.

Researchers studying the effect of BCAA on mice found too much BCAA lowered serotonin levels in the brain, which increased appetite and led to obesity.

Varying protein intake to get a range of essential amino acids was recommended.

Processed food really is that bad

It might not sound like earth-shattering news, but for anyone trying to kid themselves that processed food isn’t so bad, the game is up.

A US study found a diet high in processed foods leads to faster weight gain than a less processed diet, even if the two diets contain the same amount of sugar, fat, salt and protein.

The harm doesn’t stop with a bigger number on the scales.

Two further studies linked highly processed foods to an increased risk of heart disease and even death.

heart health

Healthy heart diet advice revamped

The Heart Foundation updated its dietary guidelines for the first time since 2013.

In response to new evidence, rather than focusing on particular nutrients, the Heart Foundation’s advice now centres more on whole foods and patterns of eating.

Full-fat milk, yoghurt and cheese are no longer on the restricted list, while consumption of red meat is recommended to not exceed 350g per week, and processed or deli meats should be considered occasional foods.

Alternate way to fast

In the wake of the popular 5:2 and 16:8 fasting diets, a new abstinence-eating regimen emerged promoting the benefits of alternate-day fasting.

Austrian research examined the health effects of having no food for 36 hours, followed by 12 hours of regular eating.

Over a four-week period, researchers observed those who were alternate-day fasting ate around 35 per cent fewer kilojoules and lost an average of 3.5kg.

Other health benefits included higher levels of ketones – formed when we burn fat – on non-fasting days, and markers in the body linked to age-related disease and inflammation improved.

Paracetamol in pregnancy under the spotlight

A new study emerged linking paracetamol use during pregnancy to an increased risk in childhood attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and autism spectrum disorder.

But in response to the report, many Australian medical experts insisted there was little cause for alarm.

University of Melbourne developmental neurobiologist Professor Norman Saunders pointed out that of the sample group, there was no pregnant patient group who had not taken paracetamol, making it difficult to assess the influence of other factors that might contribute to ASD and ADHD.


Safety of vaping questioned

Vaping came under the global spotlight this year when a number of deaths in the US were linked to vaping, prompting several states to ban e-cigarettes.

Australia’s National Health and Medical Research council says further research is required for the long-term safety, quality and efficacy of e-cigarettes to be assessed.

E-cigarettes usually contain a mix of vapourised nicotine, propylene glycol and chemical flavouring agents, and University of Sydney emeritus professor of public health Simon Chapman says it is too early to fully understand the  long term consequences of its sue.

While vaping is often used a quit smoking tool, the Cancer Council in Australia stated there is no conclusive evidence to support its effectiveness as a smoking cessation tool.

Red meat back in flavour

Just months after the Heart Foundation revised its dietary advice recommending red meat be limited to less than 350g per week, a review of a number of previous studies into meat consumption and health emerged suggesting there was little reason to alter red and processed meat consumption levels.

The researchers did not find a statistically significant association between eating meat and risk of heart disease, diabetes or cancer.

The expert reaction to the report was mixed, with dietitian Dr Joanna McMillan saying health benefits from reducing risk of heart disease, diabetes or cancer by eating less red meat is very low.

Others disagreed, including nutrition and dietetics professor Clare Collins who pointed to other evidence suggesting high intake of red meat increased risk of bowel cancer.

Written by Claire Burke.